The great way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.
When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn –
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 53, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
For several days, now, Lao Tzu has been making the case that following the Tao is something innate in all of us. Every being in the universe is an expression of the Tao. Every being spontaneously honors the Tao. The love of the Tao is in the very nature of things. Since this is true, that means the great way is easy. That certainly is Lao Tzu’s conclusion, today. It is easy. It is the most natural way for us to be. It is built into our nature, intrinsic to us. But… Wait, you mean there is a but? Of course, there is. All we have to do is observe the world around us, and see our fellow human beings in turmoil, to see there is something at odds with how easy the great way is. People prefer the side paths.
I was listening to a podcast, yesterday, an interview with Stephan Kinsella, where this was sort of the topic. I say, sort of, because they weren’t talking about philosophical Taoism specifically, they were talking about what can we libertarians do to win over more people to the cause of liberty. And, Kinsella said he thinks libertarianism is something innate in all of us. My ears perked up. Because that sounded all too familiar. He said it isn’t something we need to try and force. Oh? I won’t go through everything my ears picked up. I really need to go back, and find it, and reblog it. I think it was moralanarchism that originally posted it. I only mention it because it corresponds to what Lao Tzu is talking about today.
Why is it that we prefer the side paths? The great way is easy. It really is. I know this is true. I have found it true for myself. And yet, I still find myself, sometimes, on the side paths, as well. What makes them so tempting?
There are probably a variety of reasons.
The first one that comes to mind is we simply forget the Tao. We get so used to what our senses are telling us; and, pretty soon we just find ourselves being led by our senses, instead of our inner vision. That intuitive, spontaneous connection is easily lost if we aren’t being aware when things are out of balance.
Another, more sinister, reason is there are those who benefit, and dare I say, profit, when people are on the side paths. A system has been set up in direct opposition with the way things are. It is designed to keep things out of balance. For the few that benefit from the imbalance, they couldn’t be more delighted than when they convince us to prefer the side paths. That is all the more reason to be aware when things are out of balance. We need to re-center ourselves in the Tao.
Knowing we can easily find ourselves on the side paths, Lao Tzu offers us three warning signs for which to be on the look out. Be aware when things are out of balance. These are all robbery and chaos; and not in keeping with the Tao.
The first warning sign is when rich speculators prosper while farmers lose their land.
Now, keep in mind, if things were in balance, everyone would be prospering. We have talked about this so many times before. If powerful men and women were centered in the Tao, and stayed centered, the whole world would be a paradise. When things are out of balance, a certain few still prosper, while many others suffer. The problem isn’t so much that rich speculators are prospering, so much as it is that farmers are losing their land. One doesn’t have to prosper at the expense of another. If you are one of those who think there isn’t enough pie for everyone to have plenty, that if one has a slice, someone else will have to go without, you don’t understand how supply and demand work. The reason some are without is because someone is interfering with the laws of supply and demand. That is what has created the imbalance. Stop interfering. Stay centered in the Tao and all will return to balance again.
The second warning sign is when government officials spend money on weapons instead of cures.
It is important to understand what Lao Tzu means by contrasting weapons and cures, here. Cures, here, isn’t referring to health care. He isn’t talking about the government funding a cure for cancer, or AIDS, or any other very worthy cause. Cures, here, refers to the very reason we find it necessary to be spending money on weapons, instead. How do we respond to conflicts? Do we interfere, intervene, where it should be none of our business? Do we initiate violence and force to get our way? Or, do we react to violence with further violence, just letting it keep rebounding back and forth? There are better cures than spending money on weapons. Conflict resolution doesn’t have to involve escalation of the conflict. Making enemies and treating them like demons, rather than fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters, only takes us that much further away from the cure. Things are very clearly out of balance. Do you see it? Be aware and re-center yourself in the Tao.
The third warning sign is when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible while the poor have nowhere to turn.
Let’s be clear, here, the problem isn’t that the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible. I personally don’t care how anyone chooses to live their own lives or spend their own money. Lao Tzu isn’t judging them, per se. The problem is that the poor have nowhere to turn. So, what is the solution? This is where some well-meaning people will offer their good intentions. Let’s take some of that extra money the rich have. It is obvious they have more than enough, look at how extravagant and irresponsible they are; we should redistribute this to the poor, then they will have some place to turn. But, if you were paying any attention to what Lao Tzu was saying, you would see that is not his intention. We have already seen the government is more interested in weapons than cures; so those redistribution schemes you have formulated are doomed right from the start. But even if the government had the best of intentions, that still isn’t the solution.
So, what is? Because things are seriously out of balance here.
It is the very thing we are loath to practice, though it is the most natural of things, innate in all of us. Center yourself in the Tao. Love all beings unconditionally, just like the Tao does. Don’t interfere with the natural order, leave the balancing to the Tao. “But, but, you just don’t get it, the poor have nowhere to turn? Something has to be done!” Oh, I get it. You want to do something? Help out who you can; encourage others to voluntarily do so, as well. But never, never resort to force, to trying to bully people into doing the right thing. Because the right thing is no longer the right thing, once you have had to force it. All things will return to balance and harmony, if we will only stop interfering; and, wait for it, be patient.